Jeremy Hunt defends his actions on BSkyB

 

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended his conduct during News Corporation's takeover bid for BSkyB today as he battled for his political life amid demands for his resignation over claims that he was a "cheerleader" for Rupert Murdoch's company.

In a hastily-arranged statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hunt told MPs that he had handled the bid with "scrupulous fairness" and he was not influenced in any way by contacts with News Corp.

Prime Minister David Cameron - who met Hunt in private after yesterday's release of a dossier of emails detailing links between his office and News Corp executives - told the Commons that the Culture Secretary had "my full support for the excellent job that he does".

But the row claimed its first scalp, as special adviser Adam Smith quit, admitting his contact with News Corp "went too far".

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has called for Mr Hunt's resignation, said the affair has left "a shadow of sleaze" over the Government.

A 163-page dossier released by the Leveson Inquiry into media standards yesterday revealed scores of emails from News Corp executive Frederic Michel detailing his contacts with Mr Hunt's office during the bid process.

Labour said the emails showed Mr Hunt acted as a "back-channel" for the Murdochs, passed secret information to News Corp, and misled Parliament over the extent of his contacts with the company at a time when he held a quasi-judicial responsibility for determining whether the bid should go ahead.

But Lord Justice Leveson cautioned today against jumping to conclusions about the documents, telling the inquiry: "I am acutely aware from considerable experience that documents such as these cannot always be taken at face value, and can frequently bear more than one interpretation."

Mr Hunt told the Commons today that it was "categorically not the case" that the emails were evidence that a back channel existed for News Corp to influence his decision.

"They did not influence my decision in any way," he told MPs.

But he added: "The volume and tone of these communications were clearly not appropriate in a quasi-judicial process and today Adam Smith has resigned as my special adviser.

"Although Adam Smith accepts that he overstepped the mark on this occasion, I want to say on record that I believe he did so unintentionally."

Mr Hunt said he had requested the earliest possible date for him to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry to set out in full his version of events.

And he told MPs: "I am totally confident that when I present my evidence, the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness throughout."

Mr Smith announced his resignation in a statement about an hour before Mr Hunt's appearance in the Commons.

Mr Michel told the inquiry yesterday that, while his emails made repeated reference to contacts with Mr Hunt, these in most cases actually involved communications with Mr Smith.

The special adviser said: "I do not recognise all of what Fred Michel said, but nonetheless I appreciate that my activities at times went too far and have, taken together, created the perception that News Corporation had too close a relationship with the department, contrary to the clear requirements set out by Jeremy Hunt and the permanent secretary that this needed to be a fair and scrupulous process," Mr Smith said.

"Whilst I firmly believe that the process was, in fact, conducted scrupulously fairly, as a result of my activities it is only right for me to step down as special adviser to Jeremy Hunt."

Mr Cameron's official spokesman said the Prime Minister agreed with Mr Smith's decision to resign.

And Mr Hunt paid tribute to his adviser, telling MPs: "He did not believe he was doing anything more than giving advice on process.

"I believe him to be someone of integrity and decency and it is a matter of huge regret to me that this has happened."

Mr Hunt said that, as part of the process of considering whether the bid for BSkyB should be allowed to go ahead, he and his officials "engaged with News Corporation and its representatives as well as other interested parties - both supporters and opponents of the merger".

News Corp's attempt to buy the 61% of the satellite broadcaster which it did not already own was dropped in July 2011 before Mr Hunt reached his final decision, as a result of the furore surrounding allegations of phone-hacking at the company's News of the World newspaper.

Mr Hunt told MPs: "Throughout, I have strictly followed due process, seeking the advice of independent regulators - something I didn't have to do - and after careful consideration acting on their advice."

Fending off renewed demands from Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman for him to go, he said: "This is not the time to jump on a political bandwagon."

His statement came immediately after a raucous session of Questions to the Prime Minister, during which Mr Miliband accused Mr Cameron of putting his cronies at News Corp - including his former adviser and ex-Sun editor Andy Coulson and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks - ahead of the interests of the country.

"While his Culture Secretary remains in place, while he refuses to come clean on his and the Chancellor's meetings with Rupert Murdoch, the shadow of sleaze will hang over this Government," said the Labour leader.

"It's a pattern with this Prime Minister - Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, and now the Culture Secretary... When is he going to realise it is time to stop putting his cronies before the interests of the country?"

But Mr Cameron responded: "In judging this important bid, the Culture Secretary sought independent advice from independent regulators at every stage, although he did not need to, and the Culture Secretary took that independent advice at every stage, although he did not need to.

"The way that the Culture Secretary has dealt with this issue is in stark contrast to the Government of which (Mr Miliband) was a member."

Labour said Mr Hunt was in breach of three different requirements of the ministerial code and called on Mr Cameron to refer the case to Sir Alex Allan, the Premier's independent adviser on the code.

The charges made by the Opposition concern:

:: Article 1.2(c) which says it is of "paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity."

It continues: "Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister";

:: Article 3.3 which says: "Individual ministers will be accountable to the Prime Minister, Parliament and the public for their actions and decisions in respect of their special advisers";

:: Article 9.1: "When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament".

Downing Street said the Cabinet Secretary had written, at Mr Cameron's request, to all Whitehall departments to remind them of the "rigorous process" for dealing with quasi-judicial cases.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said it made clear "that it is vitally important in dealing with these cases that all contacts with interested parties by ministers, officials and special advisers are carefully controlled and properly recorded so that the independence, integrity and impartiality of the process is upheld."

He was unable to say whether the guidelines in place, which vary from department to department, advised against the involvement of special advisers in such contacts.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?